Sunday, October 31, 2010

RECORD REVIEWS - October 2010

Ace Elijah "The Lonely Nights are all that's Left"
Lonely Nights Are All That's Left Cover Art
Ace Elijah is a singer songwriter from Annapolis, Maryland. He has a voice that balances power and sensitivity about as well as anyone I have heard recently. The music is a lounge, mainstream sound that focuses on voice with light touches of jazz and folk. I would like to say it is timeless, but that is not quite true. It takes me back to the early sixties where pop music could draw from both folk and jazz with a focus on quality songs and strong vocals. But don't settle back too much, as he throws a change of pace in the songs once in a while. It still is mostly guitar and keyboards handling the background melody and structure, so it does fit the classic singer-songwriter style. At times, it is too relaxing for me, but this is ultimately a fine record that is unique enough for 2010 and will hopefully find an audience. They are out there, let's hope they meet.

Songs to try:

Lay by the Riverside - a swampy blues-rock tune that has a steady pace that is quite involving.

The Darkest Hours - dreamy atmosphere with sharp lyrics.
The Killer Balloons "The Killer Balloons"
This local band was excellent live when I saw them so I was looking forward to their first release. It is a rocking affair with a nice mix of garage, classic rock, metal, and maybe a touch of glam rock. The guitars rock hard throughout with a solid rhythm section and a soaring lead voice on top of it all. I guess that means the production is good as it captures all the component parts in balance. There are even some keyboards in the mix, but they don't overwhelm. A smart, crisp sound throughout I would say. Vocals are strong, sounding a bit like an unholy alliance of Feargal Sharkey of the Undertones and David Coverdale (Whitesnake/Deep Purple), but not as annoying as the latter. The songs are all likable with plenty of catchy moves and solid hooks. If you like to rock out and have a good time, you owe it to yourself to see this band some time. And if you end up liking them anywhere near as much as I did and do, be sure to grab this on your way out as it lives up to their live show.

Songs to try:

We Are - The nice blend of garage rock and classic rock with soaring vocals makes for a great opener.

Wildebeest - Interesting heavy rocker with a cool snake charmer solo among the nice twists.

Icarus - A nice heavy song with a classic progressive mix. Some creative ideas here that keeps the album humming along nicely.
Stripmall Ballads "Ballads, Stripmall"
This five-song ep is a nice representation of what Stripmall Ballads can do. The songs are vocals and acoustic guitar mostly with some subtle bass playing. Live, there is more of a rhythm section involved but it is more stark here. The production notes point out the intent of recording live real time sounds outside the studio of kids playing and traffic and the like. This probably is the only thing I don't like about this sampler. Yes, it shows that the real world is out there just as John Cage and others have reminded us, but I really think we are smart enough to know that. I think this ultimately takes away from the music, more than proves a point. But, listening to the songs, I find the usual high quality I expect from the band with strong emotional singing accented with the sting of the steel guitar strings. They are a very creative outfit, playing great simple music on stage or sound-tracking a theatrical presentation with shadow puppets and 15 foot behemoths. I recommend this band to anyone who likes Americana and folk music and although this will certainly give you a good taste of what they can do, I hope the next full length effort will have their ample creativity going in directions other than street sounds.

And since there are only five songs, try them all.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - Teenage Bottlerocket - Cobra Skulls -- Black Cat - Oct 27 2010

Cobra Skulls - Well, I am glad the Black Cat had the advance ticket price discount as it prompted me to buy early. And since there was nary a ticket left for anyone to pay full price, it was essential tonight. Up first is a power trio playing a gutsy power-pop punk set of songs, not unlike the upcoming Zeros. Something tells me they don't call the Reno scene Skeeno anymore, but it is nice to see they are still putting out accessible punk bands like this. A bit on the ska side at times with vocals that remind me of Gogol Bordello. Nice fun set.

Teenage Bottlerocket - This is probably the first band I have heard from Laramie, Wyoming and so far, Laramie is one for one. This 2-guitar four-piece really kicked up a storm of fast-paced pop-punk that reminded me of the Dickies, Ramones and Street Dogs. They had a bit of humor without being too nutty and pretty much kept the music coming fast and furious. Aside from the annoying flash photographer running around on-stage, this was a rock-solid entertaining set. It goes to show that once again, doing something simple can be extremely effective. The rapidly filling club seemed to agree.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - The Swingin' Utters singer fronts this all-star line-up with members of NOFX, Foo Fighters, and Lagwagon. They have a simple business plan, they only play cover songs in their pop-punk style. There albums all follow a theme (country, show tunes, etc.) but the show tonight featured samples of many genres. They kind of remind me of when I was young and a guitarist friend and I tried to determine which rock songs punked out best (Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" was our top pick). This is of course a fun approach when done well, which they did. Ironically after commenting on Harburg-Arlen recently, I get a cover of "Somewhere over the Rainbow" tonight. The band is good as expected and they were happy not to make too many mistakes on their songs, and thus turn into one of those awful Replacements shows in the 80s. Unlike the Replacements, they reminded people they don't take requests, but they play cover songs (improve them as they say and often are correct). Their stage patter was funny about half the time but got a bit tiring, but that's a minor complaint that they would likely agree with. They started changing their set list around a lot at the end, so much so that the soundman took his copy, folded it into a paper airplane, and sailed it into the happy crowd. And with that, I sail away as well...

Set List: Danny's Song/Somewhere Over the Rainbow/Riders in the Sky/Who put the Bomp/Sloopy?/Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard/Jolene/All My Lovin/Summertime/Tomorrow/Science Fiction/End of the World/Blowin' in the Wind/Seasons in the Sun/Desperado/Nobody Does it Better/Country Road/Mandy/Don't Let the Sun go Down on Me/Stairway to Heaven/I Believe I can Fly

Quote of the Night: From Me First... "We are no one's favorite band. But how can you not like us?"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Intronaut - A Sound of Thunder - Nihilita -- Velvet Lounge - Oct 25 2010

Nihilitia - Without looking, I am pretty sure I enjoyed this local power trio the last time I saw them. And tonight solidified my positive feeling about this band. They began with a couple of instrumentals before adding some droning vocals into their powerhouse sound. The sound is clearing a combination of diverse talents (and interests most likely). The drummer is powerhouse hard rock styled drummer with enough flair. The bass player lays down a solid rock foundation and adds the moody vocals. The guitarist is the wildcard here with lots of creative moves all over the fretboard. He rarely can put together a couple of oblique chords before he's off onto lead runs and note patterns. They have what I guess is a bit of a post rock sounded grounded in heaviness. Oh, let's say it is as if Robert Fripp joins Budgie as they cover Metallica. Or perhaps it is as if some prankster sticks firecrackers up the band Tortoise's ass. What I do know is that this is a gutsy little band that got a good and deserved response from a nice Monday night crowd. Well worth a listen if you like heavy and want to challenge yourself a bit.

A Sound of Terror - Female vocals fronting guitar, bass and drums--a lot of drums. Watching the speed of setting up and breaking down that drum kit may have been more entertaining than the set. I was expecting metal, but would there be some creative angles here? Well, honestly, no. Not that were as anything wrong here. The songs did not fall into the annoying area like many a metal band. The playing was good and the singing decent. It is just that songs like The Devil in Disguise just don't engage the imagination a whole lot. But I still thought this was a decent set. They have the talent to step it up into something special. We shall see.

Intronaut - This LA based quarter features two guitarists singing with a drummer and a 5-string bassist. I was expecting progressive metal and that is a reasonable category for their sound. Although I did not really here much patterned metal, which is just fine by me--more of a post rock sound which could also be called odds and ends or potpourri. They were heavy and droning with odd vocals that were most often sung by both singers simultaneously. The vocals took some getting used to as they were a bit dissonant by design. The music was very engaging and the 45 minute set sped by. The drummer was excellent with a real snap in his playing. The bass player used playful lines to move the song around a bit while the guitarists blasted away with angular chords and drones that were unusual, but easy to digest. This was shy of the Spaceman 3 sound, but close enough to enjoy. Good set that was received well by the modest, but sharp crowd at the Velvet Lounge.

Quote of the Night: Fom Nihilita's bassist... " Who wants to kiss?"

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sub-Radio Standard - Provence -- Jammin Java - Oct 24 2010

Provence - It's a beautiful day and I am out in Virginia to watch a couple of very young bands with most everyone in high school. So permit me a couple of war stories on why I would do this. My friends and I went to the Jockey Club near Cincinnati many years ago to see Discharge making a rare tour in the US. When we heard a band of 14-18 year olds named Sluggo were playing their first show, we laughed how they would probably blow Discharge off the stage, which of course they went on to do. And many other times at the club, five Kentucky high school students called Squirrel Bait sounded like a big label success. That brings me to Provence, a local area five-piece comprised of 15 and 16 year-olds. They have the usual rhythm section and two guitars with a keyboard playing lead vocalist. I had heard some of their recorded music and found it quite accomplished beyond their years. The good news is that they can bring it out in a live setting as well. The songs are smart with above average vocals and everyone is a competent player from what I can hear. It's a shame the bass is too loud as keyboards suffered a little along with the rhythm guitar. It improved a bit as the set went on. The songs were good indie pop-rock with rhythmic guitar and bass playing to complement the drums. I particularly like one instrumental break they had where the drummer went into a creative Africanesque beat. The lead guitar worked well on top of that for probably the most creative moment of the set. So there were flashes of very good music and it was all decent and easily could fit in with many of the touring bands I come across. They will certainly sharpen some edges and more writing and playing will yield more results, but for now, Provence can play.

Sub-Radio Standard - You know the down-side of this event is that I feel like it is the reverse of the old "kids table" at the fancy holiday dinner. But instead, the kids take over that club and I feel like one of the parents off to the side. I really need a Ray Davies or Joan Baez show, so I can feel young again. But I'm here and listening to another young band. I am thinking they are not much older than Provence (maybe a year further along in high school?) and have the same general indie rock-pop sound. They lean a tad to the mainstream and have some folk moves as the singer plays acoustic guitar on many songs. They mix around with keyboards, multiple guitars and some hand percussion, too. Decent enough pop music mostly, a bit too mainstream for me at times and lacking a little zazz (I am stealing a Simpsons joke here). But they close strongly with a couple of nice rockers, so ultimately I am impressed again with a band wiser than their years. And I will forgive a Beatles cover (Hey Jude) as bands this young can violate the Byron Coley rule on Beatles covers. In fact it made me think that if I had to a cover a song this old when I was 16, I could have chosen Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's "Stormy Weather". I could not do "Somewhere over the Rainbow" as Arlen had not written that yet. Ah, the timeline games I play... Anyway, the crowd was enthusiastic (for both bands) and it was good to see young bands get a chance to play on a good stage like the Jammin Java.

Quote of the Night: From the Sub-Radio Standard's singer after someone said something to him... "I'm just very small, this is a regular size guitar".

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Felice Brothers - Adam Haworth -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Oct 22 2010

Adam Haworth - or Adam Haworth Stephens, he of the Two Gallants which based on a brief listen sounds a little tougher than the solo show tonight. This was very smooth, soft pop-Americana. There was some subtle skill present in his guitar, both electric and acoustic. He had keys, bass and drums helping out, but none dominated. It was pretty much voice and guitar leading the way. His voice was just a little too mannered for me, as were the songs. Light Americana folk rock that may grow on me after several listens, but were not as immediate as other acts in the field. Decent enough for the opening bill and received warmly by the incoming crowd, but without a lot of excitement.

Felice Brothers - Keep in mind, that many of these shows I attend are to see bands I have heard of, but know little about. Instead of cramming myself full of internet listening and downloading, I prefer to just go in cold and see what they are about. So after some magazine articles and writing a CD review of Simone Felice's side project "The Duke and the King", I was anxious to see what this band is about. Even I sensed that they may be a little too big for the size of this club and indeed, it was a sell-out tonight. The brothers and band members lined up with guitar, bass, drums, violin, and keyboards/accordion. Three people took turns at lead vocals which made for nice variety. What struck me was that some of their songs had a lot more thought in the structure and execution than many of their brethren in the Americana folk-rock world. It reminded me of the last time I saw Sweden's excellent metal act, Opeth. Their guitarist played the first metal riff he every wrote and laughed at how naive it was. Frankly, it was comparable to about half the metal acts out there if not more. But it was nothing compared to the complex music Opeth was now performing. I get that sense here that these guys step it up a lot which of course makes for their positive reviews and this excellent set. They also varied the set with moodier pieces and crowd-pleasing drinking and boisterous songs. You can't go wrong with that. I may have a couple more favorites in this field, but I heard enough to know that I should be exploring this band more than I have.

Quote of the Night: I wrote down an amusing lyric from the Felice Brothers which got a cheer from the crowd, but I cannot read my writing (which gets a cheer from all my former co-workers and staff). The best I can do is "Fuck my whale caravan" or "Fuck my white camera". Those seem appropriate for somebody's band, maybe Syd Barrett. Wait a minute, was it "Fuck my whole career?" That makes the most sense.

Friday, October 22, 2010

School of Seven Bells - Active Child - Painted Face -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Oct 21 2010

Painted Face - A local duo starts things off with one woman on vocals and another on keyboards and computer beats and such. From the start, the sound certainly seems appropriate for this bill, but there are only a few things happening on stage, so it is important that they work. And they do. The vocals were expressive and mostly moving. The keyboards and sound generation was melodic with attractive melodies in the pop range, perhaps more mood inducing than bouncy-happy, but not downer at all. Hmmm, there probably is a better way to describe it, but basically I was involved and generally happy hearing these songs. Not much from the drum machine beats, but that's not my favorite sound anyway and it is not a bad way to get started when one or two of you are making your own music. Good 30 minute set and a local band worth checking out, for all of you who don't get to clubs early enough. Your loss.

Active Child - Another duo, but this time they are from LA and tour partners with tonight's headliner. One guy plays bass mostly and some guitar. The other starts with Irish Harp and also plays some keyboards and guitar. They have a couple computers going with only light percussion and do some looping, too. It is a good sound, not overly dense and with great touch. The key is the soaring lead vocals done in the high registers of Antony Hegarty or King Diamond (well if he toned it down a bit). There was a British goth-pop feeling, but it was not overly heavy. I am not sure whether this was due to my first exposure or a crafty set list, but I thought the set built really well to where my early intrigue and uncertainty passed and a feeling of being involved with high quality music resulted. A deceptively good band here, at least in my world. Perhaps it is obvious to everyone else.

photo by Abbey Drucker 
School of Seven Bells - The three members hit the stage of the now crowded room and something was amiss. I had seen this band many years back at the 9:30 Club and enjoyed their set, but really had not kept up with them aside from reading some positive press. Alejandra Deheza was there on guitar/vocals and vocals along with Benjamin Curtis on guitar. But the third member was a touring drummer and there was no Deheza twin sister. Apparently she left the band for personal reasons just nine days back. From what I recall, the major loss here is the visual stage presence of the two twins and perhaps there may be more behind the scenes. But musically, the essential core remains with the two guitars playing with whatever recorded parts they need along with the nice live drum sound. The first half hour had a lot more pop-rock songs than I recall, oh so long ago. There was a simpler more direct approach present. But then, the shoegaze came in a bit more during the second half of the set. Actually, it was nice to see a variety of styles that were played with subtle adjustments and easily fit into their overall sound. The band exudes charisma, even more than Deheza's bright white toothed smile. The sound is firm without being too overwhelming and allowing the vocals to work their magic. This band has toured hard and has made a nice name for themselves. I see no reason why it will not continue and even grow some more. And as much as I liked the set, the encore was brilliant. They sounded like the Velvet Underground with Jacquie McShee (Pentangle) rather than Nico. A great slow building psychedelic jam.

Quote of the Night: I get the usual questions of who do I write for or if I am a critic as I scribble some notes, but the soundman asked me "Are you stealing their lyrics?". Hadn't thought of that, but we chatted a bit thereafter (he's local, not with the band). And I also want to remind everyone if you don't hear me complaining about the sound, it means these guys are doing a great job. And I really find I don't complain about the sound too often in most of the clubs in town.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gary Numan - Rasputina -- Black Cat - Oct 20 2010

Raputina - We get a fine opening act that hopefully will make up for their equipment malfunction marred headlining set a few months back. The same trio with two cellos and drums hit the stage in ornate costumes and make-up, per usual. Melora Creager delivers the usual humorous song intros which introduce the clever songs she has come up with over the years. No equipment problems as the cellos sounded just fine, sometimes on the clean side, other times distorted to the point where they sound like a rocking electric guitar. The newer drummer has an airier style than their previous drummer. They have also dropped some of harder edges on the cello playing and create more of a psyche-folk mood throughout. I miss a bit of the older material, but there is still enough quality to make for a good set. One improvement is the dual vocals with male voice added to the sound. They did an interesting cover of the Smiths' "How Soon is Now". The set was well received by the filling club as they have plenty of fans in their own right. I would like to see a bit more of the eclectic variety of the past.

Gary Numan - Well this takes me back. I made my first overnight trip to see Gary Numan in Cleveland around 1980-81. I was not a huge fan but enjoyed the harder edged synthesizer bands and he had some of that going on like the John Foxx Ultravox and unlike the Midge Ure Ultravox. It was a good show with what I believe was David Bowie's set which looked like a couple tiers of the Hollywood Squares and a little car to ride around in on, well, the obvious hit song. No chance of anything that elaborate at the Black Cat, but they did have a great light show they brought with them. He began by doing his first album under his own name (as opposed to his band, Tubeway Army) "The Pleasure Principle" in entirety, in order with "Random" bringing it in and the b-side to Cars closing it out. Then it was a mix of older cuts and newer cuts. His band had a good drummer and a bass player who was very smooth. Three others played keyboards, although one played guitar after the Pleasure Principle material. Numan did some keys, guitar and sang all but two songs as he had lost his voice and had to cancel a show. He let the audience sing the songs and several hit their marks impressively. When he did sing, he seemed ok, so he got enough of it back to make it work. I am actually becoming less of a fan of the album recreations than when this craze started. It is fine, but it seems to separate things a bit too much and is not really needed much of the time. I mean if I want the album experience, well, I have the album. It sometimes helps to know you won't have an artist avoid playing anything recorded before 2008 until the encores, so it can work. I don't know. It did not matter to me tonight as I think my two favorites were the screaming rockers, "Pure" and "Jagged" which are newer cuts. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. He still has a nice position in that hard keyboard led new wave sound, if you'll pardon me using the term new wave in 2010. The club was quite full and had a lot more hardcore Numan fans than I thought existed, so the show worked out quite well.

Set List:  Random/Airlane/Metal/Complex/Films/M.E./Tracks/Observer/Conversation/Cars/Engineers/Asylum/The Fall/Pure/Down in the Park/Haunted/Halo/Jagged/Are Friends Electric Encores- Zulu/I Die You Die/Prayer for the Unicorn

Quote of the Night: from Ms. Creager after playing the Smiths song... "That's sounding more like Velvet Underground's Heroin"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Agnostic Front comments on DC9 show

I have been sick for a couple days, so no shows for me, but it is not bad to take a little time off. Back at it tomorrow night. For the many who asked about the relationship between the incident at DC9 and the show that evening, I did not think there was a direct connection with the bands long gone. Here are the comments of Agnostic Front's Roger Miret.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Willy Mason -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Oct 15 2010

Willy Mason - Perhaps a night of quiet music is in order after last night's high energy show at the DC9 and the disastrous aftermath. We begin with one man, a microphone and an acoustic guitar. The music is introspective folk. He plays with finger picks which creates a sharp sound, which he varies nicely with light strums to sharp dynamic thrusts. Mason's voice is the first of two rich male voices tonight, although deep, he is not as bass heavy as Lanegan. He had some nice songs including a few that really stood out. He was able to create some nice tension and deep moods. A high-quality set this was.

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - I have seen Lanegan with Greg Dulli once and have bought some Campbell solo records and a couple of their duets, so I knew what to expect tonight. They came out with a drummer, a bass player who had both an electric stand-up and a strap on, a guitarist and a guitarist/keyboardist. Campbell played some cello as well. The vocals are the key as the duo sing well together with an aching distant folk feeling. The sound was not working on stage as Campbell stopped the third song to clear up some issues with her voice feeding back. I did not think it much better in the club as her voice was too quiet in the mix, even though nothing was too loud. The club was not quite sold out, but more full than I expected. It was hard to gauge the reaction as the music is quite somber and sadly tonight, just a little too dreary. I find it a little too hard to judge based on the effects of the previous night on my mood tonight, but I left early feeling that this live set was just not working very well. I think their music is excellent, but perhaps best suited to a quiet night at home with the cat.

Quote of the night: "I got my pictures back from South Africa. They turned out pretty well." Yes, thanks to the person standing behind me for sharing that essential piece of wisdom during the middle of one of Mason's more thoughtful songs.  If I can also speak for the person she was talking to, I believe we could not have waited for that information until after the set.

DC9 Update: I don't think anyone really needs me doing much commentary here. Already we have "learned" that professionally trained nice guys/vigilante mobsters committed aggravated assault/2nd degree murder on a violent drunk/happy social drinker. This is why I limit my news intake and prefer to read about things well after they are over and maybe, just maybe some of it will make sense. But I will be following this one as it has hit so close to home.

Friday, October 15, 2010

DC9 News flash

I just heard that about some time after leaving the DC9 after last night's show, a man who was denied entry to the club and threw a brick threw the window was beaten to death by allegedly four members of the club. Shows are canceled for the next few days, but stay tuned for further serious ramifications.

Update: 2:40pm... Just want to state that I was at home when the incident happened and am guessing the bands were long gone by then. But that is a key point, unless anyone was present, then it is pretty much guessing and speculation. There are a lot of things floating around and in typical internet fashion (although no different from water cooler conversation), there are a whole lot of opinions being tossed around. I will let the process continue whether it reaches a satisfactory conclusion or not (and it can't be completely satisfactory like much of life). I have nothing to comment on at this time, but will head off to the Rock'n'Roll Hotel tonight and continue doing what I do.

Agnostic Front - Mother of Mercy - Product of Waste -- DC9 - Oct 14 2010

Product of Waste - Five-piece hardcore band from the northeast. Two loud guitars, rhythm section and a vocalist. Sounds like they learned their lessons from MDC and all the rest. All thrash, aside from one dirge. I couldn't hear the lyrics but it was probably the usual anti-corporate rants against Total Quality Management and task-based reorganizations--you know, all the basics.

Mother of Mercy - Another five-piece hardcore band (well, they all are tonight) with the usual hardcore thrash sound. This band was a bit tighter and more ferocious than the first band. The vocalist screamed well, although I couldn't hear the lyrics. Probably the old chestnuts about Rosicrucian heresy and opposition to Papal Bull 1244 (Impia judeorum perfidia).

Agnostic Front - Now here is how hardcore should be played, boys and girls. Part of it is that these guys were out there first, but they also have the style, skills, and energy to bring the room to a fever pitch. Aside from an all-star encore earlier this year, I have not seen these guys in a about a quarter of a century, so there was some nostalgia in the air, but that did not last long. From the first musical thrust to the last, these guys nailed it. Powerhouse hardcore punk rock, New Your styled. Lots of the early classics, with a sample of newer material and a cover of Iron Cross's "Crucified". The crowd was bonkers with a heavier mosh pit than at other like shows I have been at. The bouncers were busy, but kept things from getting too dangerous, so all went down pretty well for this level of intensity in such a small space. And it was a good sized crowd tonight. I like Roger Miret's singing and energy as much as anybody doing this. No cliched screaming or metal moves, just tough and tuneful. Amazing how few vocalists can just keep it simple that way.

Quote of the Night: Tour Manager talking with opening band before show while getting some dinner... "I always get one thing done. Just make sure we eat."  And the band... "It is what it is." "Yeah, I mean it's a once in a lifetime experience."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Deb Felz - Ace Elijah -- Velvet Lounge - Oct 13 2010

Deb Felz and Friends - or Deb Felz and the Big Tomato as two of the three band members wanted to call themselves tonight. Anyway, it is the same trio I have seen before with Ms. Felz singing and strumming the acoustic accompanied by a piano and hand hit percussion box. The sound was on the money tonight with everything in balance which was easy to tell for about a half a song as only Ace Elijah, myself and three other people were there. However another five friends whirled into the room and acted like the Beatles had arrived at Shea Stadium. Now normally, if a group like this was surrounding me at a sold-out 9:30 Club show, I would do my George Sanders impersonation from his role in "All About Eve". But with such a small crowd, the enthusiasm, alcohol-laced as it may be, was actually quite amusing. Otherwise this was just a quiet rehearsal. And the band passed the concentration test as it had to have been a challenge for them playing their quality emotion-laden folk songs with the equivalent of cheering metal-heads shouting out their support. I chatted with them afterward and they mentioned lots of flubs, and a couple I noticed, but mostly the spirit was there and the quality of the players was evident. This is a nice little group that I hope a few more people will check out some time.
Ace Elijah - We have the ubiquitous folksinger with acoustic guitar quickly up next. It is always interesting to see what new things I can pick out of a classic style. Well, there were some very different sounds tonight. Elijah plays finger style, but in more of a strumming style with a couple of things going on with his right hand. He plays some interesting chords and the songs are toward the complex side of things. There is some originality here. His voice is a very rich strong presence throughout. I struggled to place a comparison, which is more common for me in folk than it is in rock. I was leaning to a sound like someone in between Bobby Darin and Fred Neil, perhaps. It just did not sound like the 1960s and there was a lounge jazz feel much of the time. He provided a good clue with a cover song written in the 1930s or 40s. He was coaxed into a few more songs by the few remaining in the crowd and ended on a high note. At least there were a few people here to hear his trees falling in the forest and it was a lovely melody indeed.

Quote of the Night: From Ace Elijah early "I'm going on last, but I am really the opener as Deb got the gig." Simple enough, but it allows me to touch on something I have mentioned before. I never get tired of seeing the amount of friendship and cooperation between bands in almost every genre and size of club these days. There was so much competition and even nasty tricks evident in the scene when I was young. I still hear some of my older friends ask or tell about someone being "blown off the stage" which is something that really does not come up much(it may happen, but it is not as much a competitive goal for a band as it was then). So a quiet night tonight, but very positive nonetheless.

Monday, October 11, 2010

We Were Promised Jetpacks - Bronz -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Oct 10 2010

Bronze - While I wish this ex-Detachment Kit band had chosen a more google-friendly name, they indeed can be found on-line as well as in the opening slot tonight of this heavily attended show. They line up with drums, keyboards, two guitars and a percussionist. A bass is brought out often and the lead guitarist and keyboardist switch around a bit with it. The other guitarist sings atop the lush pop music they create. On the downside, I thought the double percussion attack did not have a lot of interplay and really did not sound as if there was more than a decent drummer. The vocals had that strained modern pop style that can be a bit off-putting at times. But as time wore on, I saw the positives out weigh the negatives. The keyboards led the way, although the guitar sounds were smartly woven into the sound where you were getting a full sonic thrust and not hearing a lot of individual parts. They did have some good hooks and moved a few of their songs along at a good pace with a good rock feel to the pop songs. The last cut sounded like early Roxy Music and rocked out pretty hard. I think there is some potential here and the almost full club had a nice time.

 Were Promised Jetpacks
We Were Promised Jetpacks - Nicely named band had my mind wandering of all the other promises of my youth unfulfilled like moon or Mars colonies. We did get the wristwatch picture phones, although they are not worn on the wrist of course. And the internet is kind of cool if not fully realized in old sci-fi movies. Anyway, this is a two-guitar four-piece from Edinburgh, Scotland--one of the finest cities in the world. And this young band is one of the finest UK-style power-pop bands out there. I say UK, as they had more of a dance style than a garage power-pop style, although gutsy post-punk moves give them their own take on things. One guitarist sings with the drummer providing a few back-up vocals. And where desired, the now sold-out or nearly sold-crowd was singing some of the parts without prompting. That always indicates a successful show and it really only got better as it went on. Pulsating rhythms, post-punk guitar moves, killer hooks, this band hit it on many levels. The songs were smartly written and although very pop oriented, they just did not seem to fall into the 1-2-3-4 mode. Their set had song after song that all worked the crowd up into a throbbing happy group. The band seemed pretty clever with the stage patter I could hear and it really was a nice positive atmosphere. Yet one more band to add to my list of "regulars" who I will see on future tours.

Quote of the Day: While eating in Chinatown a take-out customer gushed... "What a beautiful lady. Here's the beautiful lady... and another beautiful lady working with the beautiful lady. Thank-you so much. You're a beautiful lady. Beautiful ladies..."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Stripmall Ballads present "The Perfect Pipe Bomb" -- Strathmore - Oct 8 2010

Stripmall Ballads - This unique outing tonight combined the talents of the excellent Stripmall Ballads presenting a song cycle/theater piece called "The Perfect Pipe Bomb" written by guitarist/vocalist Phillips Saylor with additional vocalists, actors and puppeteers. The play hearkens back to the beat/early hippie era with John and Jane Doe journeying off to St. Louis. The story is told through the songs, some narration and puppets. There were shadow puppets that had the best puppet love scene I have seen since "Team America: World Police" (ok, the only puppet sex scene I have seen since then). There were also two 15' tall puppet characters mingling amidst the crowded room. In fact, that was about the only real negative of the night as the room at the Strathmore Mansion was not sufficient for the crowd. After straining my body in an odd angle in a crowd that I am more used to at a 9:30 Club sellout, I decided to take the second act from the lobby behind the room where fortunately I could still hear and see all. It was nice to have such a strong attentive crowd for this interesting presentation, so my complaints are minor. Everyone enjoyed it and it was the second night in a row of seeing an attentive audience absorbed with the music (and acting tonight). I enjoyed it as well, as the Stripmall Ballads play an excellent Americana styled folk-rock that rises above many other bands--they are the ones where you think "this has been done to death". They sounded good tonight with a bit more electric guitar tonight and some lead female vocals which were excellent. They had a chorus of up to seven other vocalists as well, so they were able to vary the arrangements quite a bit which added to the depth of the overall presentation. I am a theater fan as well as a music fan and it is nice to see people challenge themselves with a presentation like this. That sometimes happens at the Fringe Festival, but this effort was much steadier and higher quality than many of those efforts.

Quote of the Night: from the stage before the start... "You will need to make some space for two fifteen feet high puppets that will be coming in from the back" which resulted into a bemused groan from the packed audience. Yet somehow it all worked with only a chandelier getting in the way.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Serena Maneesh - Woven Hand -- DC9 - Oct 7 2010

Woven Hand - On a day where I passed on the chance to buy Bob Dylan tickets to celebrate last century's finest songwriter, I instead eagerly awaited this chance to see one of this century's best songwriters, David Eugene Edwards. I have followed his great music from 16 Horsepower to his now well-seasoned Woven Hand. He came out with his usual rhythm section and had a fourth member on keyboards, effects and backing vocals. I have preferred four-member versions of this band in the past and it certainly worked tonight. The sound was fuller with little time between songs as the segues were as mysterious and evocative as the songs themselves. Edwards played banjola and much more electric guitar than in the past. His vocals were strong and the essential rhythm section was in complete harmony with these great songs. From the opening of "Winter Shaker" through the many new songs from "The Threshingfloor", the audience was treated to a wonderful mixture of dark Americana played with a mix of droning, heavy rock, folk rock and cool almost old Germanic creativity. This is dark, evocative music that for some reason still plays better in Europe than in America. Hopefully, American will catch up because Woven Hand offers some of the finest music out there now and in this past decade. The club was quite full and the response to this 55 minute set was much stronger than I am used to seeing at Indie shows. That was refreshing both as a great night out and that there are some very savvy music lovers in town.

Serena Maneesh -From Norway comes this exciting five-headed psychedelic monster to join Woven Hand in what is correctly billed as a double-headliner night. The club thinned out a bit and I do not think that was only due to the extreme volume. Too bad for those that left early as this set was a psychedelic maelstrom of guitars, synth moves atop a pounding rhythm section. While I did not think they were quite as successful with dynamic shifts as one of my favorites, Mogwai, they made up for that with some of the most powerful heavy rock songs out there. Imagine Hawkwind songs played even heavier with more abandon. The band was sharp and never careened out of control. The 50 minute set ended with a monster of a song where the singer/guitarist gave his guitar to tourmate David Eugene Edwards to finish while he joined the crowd. They then dropped it down a bit and slowly faded away. This was a fabulous double bill with two bands that were very different, but entirely sympathetic with each other in various sonic and thematic ways. I highly recommended both of these bands live and I deem Woven Hand albums a necessity.

Quote of the Night: From Peter Hook's excellent book "The Hacienda - How Not to Run a Club"... "It turned out the beer pumps and fittings had been installed incorrectly. Because the wrong taps were used, we lost something like one pint for every four we sold. We brought in loads of highly paid advisors to identify our problem areas, but they told us nothing we didn't already know: that we were overstaffed, that we were being ripped off and that we were idiots."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gayngs - Glasser King -- Black Cat - Oct 5 2010

Glasser - After two nights off which felt like two weeks, it was time to hit the clubs and see what they will provide for me tonight. Glasser provided some moody electronic pop rock that was much more subdued and edgier than say that of Caribou. They had a guitarist who played more for textural soundscaping, a drummer, a keyboardist who also did addtional drumbeats and electronics and a female singer. The singer was ecellent with her vocals leading the songs on top of the mix. She reminded me of Sharon Knight which is a reference no one will know, so I will change that to reminding me of some of the classic folk-rock female singers. One song featured vocals and light guitar playing a bass line. The rest were noisier, but vocals were the key and a good edgy yet dreamy mood prevailed. Slick, but enticing. Nice set.

New Release: Gayngs: <i>Relayted</i> Gayngs - Gayngs indeed. A gayng of I think ten people came out on stage. There were three guitars, rhythm section, lead vocals and three guys I could not tell what they were doing, although two were seated and clearly some keyboards came through. Lots and lots of vocal mics were important as it was kind of odd that so many people created such quiet music. There were some jarring volume moments and at times a song rocked out a bit, but for the most part this was lush pop music in the nature of 10cc. This is the second offshoot of Bon Iver I have experienced. Odd that offshoots of an act that made one album are so active, but thus is the nature of the much over-hyped Bon Iver album. I did like the drummer's off-shoot album (Sean Carey's "All We Grow"), but don't think a whole lot of Bon Iver. I was interested to see where I would rank Gayngs. After this set, I would put them in the middle. There is a nice pop element to the songs, but only a few of them moved me much. I did rather like the early Public Image like song they did with the heavy Wobble-like bass and intricate Levine-like guitar moves. The crowd enjoyed the set as it was well done. However, the club was not quite half-full meaning this was overpriced at $20 or that this band has a good cult audience thus far. Maybe a little of both.

Quote of the Night: "Thanks to everybody who was quiet for that" from the opening band vocalist after the song with just her and light bass notes. Unfortunately, as usual (here he goes again), her thanks go to about half of the crowd. She was nicer about it than I would be as I really do not understand the mindset of people who pay $20 to see live music and then engage in non-stop idiotic conversation that they really would understand the idiocy of, if they just stop and thought about it. I don't mind music-related chat now and then during a set, but just watch some of these idiots some time. My dagger stares don't seem to work when I watch them. Perhaps it is time to inject myself into their trivial conversations and suggest that if their points are so important, then they should be on-stage sharing them with us some time.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Folger Consort "Pastime with Good Company" - Folger Shakespeare Library - Oct 2 2010

Folger Consort - Well this is DC, but is it rock? No, it is classical music, but I am a Henry VIII fanatic and I enjoy the Folger Theater as a great place to go to see music or theater, ergo a review is forthcoming. Henry VIII has always fascinated me and I have long recommended a study of that regime to prepare one for a career in office politics. One time at Windsor Castle, I discovered the Holbein painting of Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk who was responsible for providing both beheaded wives for the King. I was so fascinated with the painting and chatting with the guard, that I missed my tour bus for the rest of the day and had to train back to London. As for the King, he was a fine player and composer as a young man and his song "Passetyme with Good Cumpanye" has been covered many times including rock acts like Robin Williamson (Incredible String Band) and Deep Purple's Richie Blackmore. Tonight the Folger Ensemble has five players with lute, cello like viols, violin, recorder, flute, bagpipe and other wooden wind instruments (forerunners to clarinets, oboes and bassoons). Lionheart is also here as a six-voice singing ensemble. The program includes anonymous pieces from the era, composers like William Cornysh from the King's Court, and five songs from the King himself. They play three instrumentals from the Henry VIII songbook which fit well into the program. They do a song called "Though sum saith that yough rulyth me" which was fairly complex and moving. The closer was the famous "Pastime with Good Company" which as a song, is as good as most anything written today. The players tonight had full vocals going with energetic strings, winds and drum. A great closer to a very fine program.
File:Holbein, Hans - Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk.jpg 
Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and Henry VIII at coronation